Sorry Shelley, I disagree with your feminist essay

July 22, 2005

I ran across Shelley Powers’ post about women getting the shaft in the IT industry and I’d have to say I disagree with her.

First, I’m not really sure if there is discrimination against women in the IT industry; I haven’t been everywhere, so I’m not in a position to make an accurate general statement. However, I have been at IBM, Microsoft, Google, Plaxo and a few other internet startups. I didn’t see any discrimination against females at any of these places. Boy’s club? I don’t think so. Geek club? Heck yes. As a matter of fact, in my experience geek females are usually held in extremely high regards. If anything, being female and knowing your stuff is actually more powerful than being just another one of the guys.

Second, although Shelley doesn’t believe it, I know for a fact that Microsoft, Google, Plaxo and tons of other companies are trying to fill thousands of open positions. You know why they aren’t filled? Because it’s extremely hard to find qualified people, that’s why. I don’t think it’s because companies are conspiring against hiring women or minorities or whatever. If you’ve ever been at any of these places, you’d know that all of these companies would hire a fleet of albino hermaphrodites in a heartbeat if they were all rockstar coders.

On a side note, I’ve conducted quite a few technical interviews and let me tell you, 95% of the time the candidate is unacceptable for the job – and I’m talking about entry-level developer positions. Is my bar high? You bet it is. Smart companies know that a critical part of remaining competitive is to only hire smart people. Can’t code AtoI, IsAnagram, or StrStr? Guess what, you’re not getting a job. Believe it or not, 19 out of 20 interview candidates can’t do it.

Maybe the unemployment rate is so high becuase during the dot com boom, too many unqualified people joined the industry to try to get easy money and now they can’t find jobs. But now I’m just wildly speculating…

In any case, many skilled professions are very competitive – the IT industry is not alone. Try being a creative writer, or getting a job in Hollywood, or a pro athelete, or a med student, or a politician – the list goes on and on.

My feeling is this: with technology today, the playing field is as level as it has ever been. Any person regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, etc. can build the next Flickr, a better Google, or a more secure Firefox. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Stop pulling out references to what happened during/after World War 2 and start filling the history books for the 21st century.

Advertisements

No Responses Yet to “Sorry Shelley, I disagree with your feminist essay”

  1. lena Says:

    I read your article first, and expected a “I cannot get a job and that must be because I am a girl” rant, but Shelley’s article has a lot more depth.

    “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”. Ugh. That’s an attitude that is not helpful at all. If lots of talented chefs have problems with the heat in small unventilated kitchens it might be a good idea to make better kitchens, instead of telling the chefs to go away.

  2. Shelley Says:

    That is the worst interview question I’ve heard of. It is guaranteed to discriminate in favor of a certain type of developer, and not necessarily a good one.

    No wonder you people can’t find good engineers. You don’t know how to interview worth a damn. You’re looking for code monkeys, but interviewing engineers. I had a feeling this was what was happening when I talked with someone who interviewed at Microsoft and the same thing happened. Absolutely silly questions–and yes, very biased. Your HR department has done a poor job.

    Asking somebody how to do code the strstr function. I’d hire the person who looked at you like you were daft and said, “I’d use the function built into the language. Now what _job_ is it you want me to do?”

  3. MickoZ Says:

    I think is point, at less I hope, is not to remake the C language. But that some people lack the skill to be able to write simple logic.

    It would be very acceptable for someone to ask to define the input and expected output of the function (giving the case he doesn’t know C). Then I am more a logic person. I am very strong logically, but I am not a memory-type of person. So I don’t remember all there exist (and that is a skill I need to improve).

    However, I have interviewed some people in some case and worked with people in the field + at school (as all of you that did go at school). And there is way more people I would’t hire than hire. I probably have high standard (even if lazy) and probably do not trust everyone so easily too.

    That is probably the case in a lot of field too. But in IT, I feel that a lot of people are not doing it correctly (sometime with “reason” — ex. time constraint, bad management, etc. — but sometime simply because they don’t get it at all).

    I’m probably in the generation that don’t care (as much as old timer do) about memory, size, etc. — however some people even when coding using the library, make some weird logic and most importantly, cannot even formalize a solution for it to work without logical bug (I’m not talking about obscure bug, I’m talking about simple logic-flow).

  4. Michael Says:

    FWIW: My boss is a woman!

  5. markjen Says:

    Wow, some of these comments are quite a shocker.

    If you are competent at all, you should be able to write out simple, unoptimized code for AtoI, IsAnagram, or StrStr in approximately 5 minutes. These aren’t exactly hard problems; as a matter of fact, I think in normal everyday problem solving, you’re going to run into problems that are an order of magnitude harder than these. If you can’t figure out how to use a for loop or some basic memory constructs, then you don’t deserve a job in the IT industry.

    Lena – all I meant was that in certain industries, there is a lot of competition. The IT industry is one of them. I’m not saying it’s a good or bad thing, but that’s just the way it is.

    Shelley – obviously, we’re not rebuilding strstr; as a matter of fact, we love using libraries to save work – for example, we make _heavy_ use of Boost. However, sometimes, the real work is where there isn’t a library available to use so you actually have to code something up. These questions aren’t suitable to use in an interview context. Obviously, if you ask a candidate to code up a sync engine or a web service, they are going to fail; it’s pretty hard to do in 45 minutes. These _basic_ programming questions are meant to be a proxy so an interviewer can see if a candidate has knowledge of rudimentary programming constructs (variable declaration, for loops, etc.).

    Mickoz – these questions are language agnostic. You can solve them using VB, a scripting language or even psuedocode I suppose. The point is, you need to be able to think logically to solve any of them.

    Michael – I’ve seen many successful women in this industry as well. I don’t think a persons gender has anything to do with whether you are successful or not; if you have the skills, you will be recognized. Or if you’re getting screwed, then find a new job or build your own revolutionary service.

  6. Shelley Says:

    If you have 20 engineers that you’re interviewing and only one or two pass, and yet these are experienced engineers (I’m assuming) with the credentials to be pulled into the interview, you need to take a look at the interviewing process, not necessarily the the candidates for ‘fault’.

    For instance, in a interview situation, if you ask someone specifics as to code, and even a code example such as this, you are more likely to get a positive result from a recent graduate than you are from a person who has been in the field for some time. Why? Because this has all the nature of a CS quiz, rather than interview. The very nature of it is going to fluster a person with longer experience, because they’re going to be expecting a question about real solutions and real problems, not a quiz on basic programming logic.

    You’re also going to get a positive result from someone who is currently employed rather than someone who has been unemployed. Why? Because the person who has been unemployed for a time doesn’t have this information in immediate short term memory (call it neural cache) than the person who has been employed. But this doesn’t mean that the person who has been out of work is ‘bad’. Give them a couple of weeks, and they’ll be able to answer any of your questions.

    Finally, your questions specifically highlight your strengths and experiences. Excuse me, but do you happen to be less than 35, white, and male?

    Your interviews are literally defeating their intended purpose: you are most likely losing out on very good people because of the nature of the interviews themselves. But you absolutely refuse to consider that it could be because of the interviews and questions, not the people interviewed.

    Your HR department is not particularly impressive if they can’t see this is happening.

    Any interview that resorts to having the interviewee code is a bad interview. Shows that your staff is too inexperienced to know how to interview.

  7. Shelley Says:

    And frankly Mark, how much of your getting the job at Plaxo was because you were fired at Google for a blog?

  8. Shelley Says:

    Just checked — you got a degree in 2003, Mark. Exactly how much experience with companies and IT have you had? And you’re a program manager? After two years in the industry?

    Also: did you have to do a code test for Plaxo?

  9. markjen Says:

    Shelley – Your comments are dripping with age-ism :-p

    Anyways, the questions I ask aren’t exactly difficult. IMO, anyone who thinks they are difficult is not qualified. It’s like asking a carpenter if they know how to use a hammer or asking a journalist if they know how to write a 5 paragraph essay.

    Even if someone has been working in the industry for 20 years, they should still be able to solve a basic problem. It’s not a memorization exercise; if a candidate seems to know the answer from memory, you better bet I’ll be moving on to another one.

    I’m 22, asian and male. So what? What does that have to do with my problem solving skills?

    Frankly Shelley, I had to go through round after round of interviews just like any normal candidate at Yahoo, Amazon, Microsoft and other companies after I was fired. I was able to get job offers without much of a problem. FYI, right now (as always), it can be incredibly easy to get a job if you have the right skill set.

    By the way, a rule of interviewing I adhere to is: it’s ok to let a good candidate slip through the cracks as long as a bad one doesn’t get through. A single bad engineer can destroy the effectiveness of an entire team.

  10. Shelley Says:

    I actually came in to apologize because my crack about your age was condescending. But the point is, you’re talking like a graybeard, Mark. Like you have all the answers. So my crack was somewhat relevant, if counter-productive to conversation.

    Mark, you don’t ask a carpenter if they can use a hammer. You ask what projects they’ve worked on.

    You don’t ask a journalist if they can write a five paragraph essay. You ask for samples of their work, and references from editors and the like.

    In other words, you can’t really tell how good a person is from their responses based on primitives — you have to take the time to listen to what the people have done, perhaps check out existing work, talk to co-workers and former employers.

    You’re taking the quick way out. A computer quiz, focused at a specific type of person. You’re basing your judgement on mermorization, not capability, experience, or ability to reason. Or even ability to community. In fact, you’re interviews are guaranteed to pull in someone like you: A 22 year old guy, who got a degree two years ago. Unfortunately, this is who Microsoft and Yahoo and Google are zeroing in on to, also.

    And because of this, you’re all losing out on good people. And eventually, this is going to backfire badly.

    As for letting a good candidatge slip through — weren’t you the one who said how hard it was for you to find people? Next time, take a chance and listen to your candidates.

  11. Shelley Says:

    Sorry, “…or even ability to communicate.”

  12. Kathie Says:

    Looks like you may on the route to being famous again!

  13. Ravi Mohan Says:

    “My feeling is this: with technology today, the playing field is as level as it has ever been. Any person regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, etc. can build the next Flickr, a better Google, or a more secure Firefox.”

    Amen ! I’ve been getting called all sorts of funny names for saying exactly this at Shelley’s blog .(I dont’ mind).I should learn more from Mark on how to express myself better ! Thanks Mark!

    “Smart companies know that a critical part of remaining competitive is to only hire smart people. Can’t code AtoI, IsAnagram, or StrStr? Guess what, you’re not getting a job. Believe it or not, 19 out of 20 interview candidates can’t do it.”

    Spot On 🙂

  14. markjen Says:

    Shelley – If a carpenter doesn’t know how to use a hammer or a journalist can’t write an essay, then what good are they? Likewise, if you’re an IT professional and you can’t code up a basic function, how are you supposed to be able to build complex systems?

    Like I said, these questions should take 5 minutes. The other 40 minutes are to explore more interesting things; but if a candidate can’t demonstrate that they know the basics, how am I supposed to trust that they’ll be able to do anything even remotely complex?

    I don’t have all the answers; I don’t think anyone has all the answers. I’m merely stating my opinion that I don’t agree with your essay 🙂


  15. […] , but at least now I know why she’s upset. We’re having a lively discussion in the comments of my last post; she’s thrown in some personal attacks on me based on my demographic a […]


  16. Got to agree with Mark. He is not saying those basic questions are the only thing that needs to be asked, just that they are a first step. Asking someone to write some code in front of you gives you a chance to see how they think. If, as you suggested Shelley, they get flustered – they clearly arn’t working in the right industry.


  17. I totally agree with you Mark. Of course the ones with the loudest opinions in response to your entry are going to be those who disagree but the facts are facts; if you know what you’re doing, you’re going to get hired. The IT industry like any business is about money. You make money by putting out a superior product, ideally, in a fast amount of time. If a woman was better and more proficent than a male, you’d hire the woman, period. Welcome to capitialism, shelley, and in this industry you suceed by hiring smart people, not certain types of people. N00b.

  18. Justin Says:

    You probably just went to the top of google’s pagerank for Albino Hermaphrodites. ^^

  19. terry chay Says:

    I told Mark that sexism is a very touchy issue, but I guess he needs more adwords revenue. 🙂 I can’t deal with that issue and hold my temper so instead I’ll defend Plaxo’s HR which Shelly has seen fit to shit on. (Mark will appreciate the irony of me defending HR, the rest of you won’t.)

    That is the worst interview question I’ve heard of. It is guaranteed to discriminate in favor of a certain type of developer, and not necessarily a good one.

    I believe the idea of the question is to discriminate in favor of a certain type of developer: one who can competently write an algorithm to a problem they haven’t memorized a solution too. (Now it is conceivable that someone has memorized the solution to strstr() but highly unlikely, it is too simple.)

    I’ve never given this question in an interview, but when others do it here, they aren’t concerned with how fast you’ve solved the problem, but what your thought processes are. The questions Mark mentioned are one among many. It’s doesn’t work like “Hey he aced stsstr() let’s hire him!”

    No wonder you people can’t find good engineers.

    Nearly every study done by ACM and others show the variance of “good” engineers within a company is very small but the variance of a “good” engineer between company’s are very large. I’d hazard to say that the average engineer at Plaxo would be a superstar at another company.

    You don’t know how to interview worth a damn.

    My boss once said that in IT, you will be more remembered by who you hire than by anything you do. Now personally, every person I’ve screened and hired has turned out competent enough that they were never wanting a job, so I think I’ve done pretty well by that criteria. Admittedly, it’s been very few since I’m not in HR. How have you done?

    Your HR department has done a poor job.

    HR’s job is to screen out the bad candidates and follow up on the good ones. HR’s job is not to determine candidates competency or if they are a “good fit”, that’s their fellow engineers who have to work with these people daily. It very well may be that our HR department has done a poor job if competent engineers aren’t even getting to the interview stage. But that isn’t want you are complaining about is it?

    Asking somebody how to do code the strstr function. I’d hire the person who looked at you like you were daft and said, “I’d use the function built into the language. Now what _job_ is it you want me to do?”

    If I were the sort to give this question, I’d think that your first part of your answer is very good. I’d think that the second part of your answer shows an attitude that implies you aren’t a team player. Remember successful development is more a function of a good team than a star engineer. I’d still say, “point taken, but if you had to how would you write strstr()” because the point in asking the question is to see the engineer’s problem-solving thought process.

    Software developers are not “building code” they are engineers writing design documents. Therefore you can’t simply given them a question that is “the job we want you to do” because we don’t know what job you’ll be asked to do. If it were so easy to solve the problem in an interview, we wouldn’t need to hire you. The time spent screening candidates would be far better spent coding.

    If you have 20 engineers that you’re interviewing and only one or two pass, and yet these are experienced engineers (I’m assuming) with the credentials to be pulled into the interview, you need to take a look at the interviewing process, not necessarily the the candidates for ‘fault’.

    Have you ever had to screen/interview engineers? How many people do you think mislead or lie on their resume? How many people claim they are a principle on the resume that you find must be false only after you test their skills?

    No it is never the candidates “fault” that they don’t get a job offer. Heck, I’ve had a lot of rejections myself. I believe it is a much better world view to believe that any company is lucky to have you and that it is their loss than to be calling their hiring policy stupid or blaming their HR department.

    For instance, in a interview situation, if you ask someone specifics as to code, and even a code example such as this, you are more likely to get a positive result from a recent graduate than you are from a person who has been in the field for some time.

    You are correct that the ability to solve a simple code example such as this is a function of how recently they’ve been exposed to it. However, consider
    1) Well they aren’t asking you to code it in C, you can use Fortran for all they care. I was once interviewed for an Amazon startup in which I started the algorithm in PHP and finished it in C. They didn’t seem to mind.
    2) We aren’t asking them to reverse a linked list or some other question they’ve been likely to run across in school.
    3) My degree is in Physics not CS, the last time I would have had to code something like strstr() would have been in 1989) and I’d have no problem answering this.
    4) They aren’t judging you based on how fast you solve the problem, they are judging you based on how you solve the problem.
    5) Maybe writing strstr() without using a library is representative of the sort of problems you will be encountering on a daily basis here.

    Your interviews are literally defeating their intended purpose: you are most likely losing out on very good people because of the nature of the interviews themselves. But you absolutely refuse to consider that it could be because of the interviews and questions, not the people interviewed.

    This assumes that every candidate gets questions from all of us like strstr(). Obviously the fact that I sometimes interview candidates for Plaxo is an exception to that.

    Your HR department is not particularly impressive if they can’t see this is happening.

    Any interview that resorts to having the interviewee code is a bad interview. Shows that your staff is too inexperienced to know how to interview.

    I’m sorry, your name is Bill Gates? Steve Jobs? You created a startup that has 5 million users? You have years of HR experience in IT? People rave about the size of your rolodex? You get e-mails from Marc Andreessen when he has a new startup and is looking for people to hire?

    Unfortunately, this is who Microsoft and Yahoo and Google are zeroing in on to, also.

    Geez, I can only hope that our hiring is as good as those companies.

    And because of this, you’re all losing out on good people. And eventually, this is going to backfire badly.

    As for letting a good candidate slip through — weren’t you the one who said how hard it was for you to find people? Next time, take a chance and listen to your candidates.

    Know what Type I and Type II error is? The most important thing is to not be stuck with a bad engineer. If you have to pass on some good ones because of your hiring process isn’t perfect (whose is?), this is not a problem. That engineer will go on to better things, but a bad engineer can ruin a whole team.

  20. terry chay Says:

    Mark can you fix the blockquote error in the above post?

  21. markjen Says:

    No problem Terry, the blockquotes should be correct now I think.

    All I have to say about his comment is: wow! I definitely couldn’t have said it better myself.

    And I think I’ve learned my lesson this one; it’s probably best to keep out of discussions about sexism. As Terry says, it’s a very touchy issue 🙂


  22. I was always told never to agrue about politics or religion. To some people, the feminist thing becomes political playing cards.

  23. Ted Says:

    hello maniacs
    I’d like to add a little sanity to this blogathon. I have run a company for 12 years and I look for various things in a future worker but two main things many of you neglect to mention is balance & organization. I would take a well balanced organized individual with an average IQ any day over a hot shot Stanford grad who might be very smart with computers but is a complete mess in many other areas of his life. I’ve seen very intelligent people who are considered book smart bring companies down and people with lower IQ’s bring them down too. Any good organization or team knows it needs well organized balance people and those people come in many different shapes, sizes, colors and genders. The key is getting the right mix. The companies like Google along with several others that skew there hiring towards young people eventually will pay the price. Not all great ideas come from youth. The youth pushes the envelope and us wise ones need to make sure it doesn’t get pushed too far that it goes off the edge which can lead to lawsuits and many other headaches. The biggest mistakes I have made in my life was when I was a young hot shot and some of my best decisions have happened because of my experience. You know why many of us wish we were 21 again? Because we wish we could fix all the stupid mistakes we made when we were young. Look for the intangibles in people and not only there test scores or college degrees!

  24. terry chay Says:

    Ted,

    I agree with everything except that a company like Google “eventually will pay the price.” After all, Microsoft has had the same hiring policy and therefore must be the world-record holder of karmic HR debt. If they do finally pay the price, few could argue that it wasn’t a very successful run. For instance, if you said, “I hope that companies like google … will pay the price.” then I’d agree with you. But I find it hard to argue with success.

    But let’s think about this: do you really want as a software engineer someone who couldn’t code up strstr() in the language of their choice if asked to? That sounds to me as a very polite way of asking whether or not the 9 years of C programming on your resumé is lie. It’s not that we’re asking for the moon here.

    Nor is it the only think we’re asking for. The rest of your stuff I emphasized in “company fit” or “team play.” If you don’t get an offer, be confident enough to think that it is their loss. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you are incompetent.

    Of course, if you do happen to be a hot shot Stanford grad who might be smart with computers and has good organization and balance then we’d love to have you.

    And I’ll even overlook the fact that I really dislike Stanford. 😉

    Take care,

    terry

  25. Ted Says:

    hi terry,
    I want to make one thing clear. I know nothing about writing code along with many other things that have been mentioned but I do understand how people tick. You could hire the greatest coder ever, but if he or she is disliked and doesn’t respect others it will lead to a never ending number of disasters. Never ever underestimate cohesiveness! The New England Patriots are a perfect example. They have some very talented players but they always look for people that are talented and also ones that fit in well. This type of thinking wins championships and builds great businesses in most instances. I always tell people that want to run there own business that they must be good to ok at every aspect and strengthen there weaknesses quickly if they want to succeed. I have seen people who are much more talented then me in several areas of my business that fail miserably. The reason they fail is because they do not realize how weak they are in other areas and it always catches up to them. As far as Google goes…they have done some great things but their hiring practices are not the only issue they face. I was involved with Google for a long time and there are some major issues which eventually will come out. Do not forget Enron! The main thing I want to convey is that cohesiveness, intangibles, balance & organization should be given as much credence and possibly more then test scores, degrees and knowing some basic codes. A good baseball scout or great recruiter always looks at a persons talent but they never forget the four things I mentioned above!

  26. markjen Says:

    Hi Ted, thanks for the comments. I think we all agree that getting along well with others and being a team player are crucial skills to look for when hiring. I don’t think anyone would argue with you on that one.

    However, I wouldn’t hire a mediocre candidate just becuase they were well rounded. And I definitely wouldn’t hire a candidate that had unbelievable “soft skills” if they didn’t know how to do basic problem solving. The New England Patriots aren’t going to hire a quarterback that can’t throw the ball regardless of whether or not he is able to fit into a team.

    At the end of the day, I think we’re all looking for those rock stars out there to add to our teams; the problem is, there just aren’t that many.

    Relating to the original essay by Shelley though, a major reason I disagree is becuase I know that a rock star candidate will easily find a job in the current economy – regardless of their sex, race, religion, orientation, etc. Right now, companies can’t afford not to hire these stellar candidates.

    IMO, the reason the unemployment numbers are so high is because most people aren’t rock stars. AFAIK, there’s not much you can do about that; after all, there’s only one Tom Brady 🙂

  27. Ted Says:

    Hey Mark,

    You might not know this but Tom Brady was a sixth round draft choice. You are mediocre and are considered to have soft skills when you go in the 6th round. I’m sure New England is glad they didn’t have you as their talent scout. You need to look at many other things when hiring a potential canidate. Every human and even rock star has weaknesses. You have never run a business as far as I know and if you did you would realize that a well balanced, organized person who always trys to improve can be a huge benefit and I mean a huge benefit to you! A smart individual can also benefit you but never forget balance and organization and those are the people that are lacking. Your comment about not hiring mediocre people who are well rounded individuals is nuts. Start your own company and you will realize how important well rounded mediocre people can be. I rely on many of these individuals every day and they can be your rock star if you know how to handle them. One of the best feelings you can have is giving a chance to someone who has mediocre skills and seeing them blossom into greatness. Your a good guy Mark, but occasssionally you need to open your eyes a little wider. This world we live in today has been built by a lot of people you would consider mediocre. Next time you go to church you might want to give thanks to some of those mediocre people who helped give all of us a better life.

  28. markjen Says:

    Hi Ted – I didn’t know that about Tom Brady; all I knew was that he was a quarterback at Michigan 🙂

    I’ve worked on teams where 2 people have pulled along 30 and it sucked. Now at Plaxo, 30 people do the work of much more, and it’s awesome.

    I don’t think this applies to all industries but in my experience – and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not veteran by any means – the IT industry is one where this is key.

    I think we all agree that buildling a well balanced, cohesive team is essential; where we disagree is on whether we’d want a person on our team with mediocre skills. I’d rather keep looking to find a person who fits well on the team and has stellar technical abilities as well.

  29. Ted Says:

    Hey Mark,
    Everyone of us in this world is mediocre at an enormous amount of things. Any talent scout knows that identifying stellar performers is easy. The hard part is identifying the non stellar performers who have the potential to become stellar performers or great role players under the right circumstances. A person might be afraid of hiring someone that is not as stellar as someone else because they lack the confidence of taking that person to a higher level. You should choose the overall fit person 9 out of 10 times, because you can always fix a couple of weaknesses better than you can a smart person who is not a team player. I have no problem with a less than stellar person because I have confidence in my abilities to turn that person into a superstar. Any coach or teacher will tell you that one of the most satisfying experiences they can have is to turn a less talented person into a stellar performer. As you grow older you will realize that turning lemons into lemon aid is a constant ongoing life process. In a perfect world we would all get the employees you describe but as you are finding out they aren’t that easy to come by no matter what industry you are in today. The key is finding the people that may have a little less talent but have potential to become the stellar performer you describe. That is why you must look at the intangibles and understand if you and your team will have the ability to take the hire to a higher level.

  30. moman Says:

    I don’t believe gender discrimination is rampant in the IT world. What does seem to happen is some women taking advantage of their beauty in a male dominated world to get ahead. I know some female co-workers who don’t have a problem with wearing revealing outfits to work just to remind the boss of her “assets”.

    I also agree with you Mark in the FACT that there are so many unqualified candidates it’s silly. I’ll be the first to admin I can’t code atoi or strstr, but I know what those functions do and I can figure it out with a web connection.

    I’m involved in the selection process for a startup org and I can tell you what I’ll be looking for:
    -college degree is a must or you better be a genius
    -sense of urgency
    -interested in training and tech organizations—keeping current and at the top of the game
    -Professionalism (most important attribute)
    -High level of aptitude

    I would never ask someone to write a line of code or a SQL statement. I’ll hire the guy in a heartbeat who tells me “I don’t know how to do that, but I’ll look it up on Yahoo”. Technical assessments don’t tell you anything about a person IMO. I hated that fact about college…sure you cram all night to know atoi and strstr but then if you don’t use it, you lose it. I have access to all the technical novels in the world at work and if I am ever required to give a technical interview, you can bet it will be open book.

  31. markjen Says:

    Hi Moman – The trick with asking a candidate a technical coding question is not to have them recite it from memory. It’s to have them solve the simple problem right there in the interview room so I can gauge their technical skills. Although you don’t know how to code AtoI or StrStr, I’d hope you could figure it out pretty quickly – these are rudimentary functions 🙂

    If a candidate has the answer memorized, then I move onto another question. Having someone memorize a function and recite it to me is of no value; I can use a search engine as well as the next guy 🙂

  32. Shelley Says:

    Since Mark won’t call you on it, I will: Momon, you say there is no discrimination in the IT world and then you turn around and say something that is so sexist that it takes one’s breath away. “What does seem to happen is some women taking advantage of their beauty in a male dominated world to get ahead.”

    Whatever your sex is, you’ve got some real hangups to get over, and until you do, your actions are extremely suspect.

    And you’re responsible for hiring?

    Un-be-lievable.

  33. moman Says:

    Shelly:

    You are twisting my words. I didn’t say all women do that. I’d say there is 1-2% that do. Have you ever heard of Washingtonenne?

    IT is a male dominated world. That doesn’t make it right, but it’s the way it is right now. Don’t you see the same news reports that I do where people are fretting how to get more females into the field?

    If we worked together, would you say I sexually harassed you if I complimented you on your clothes along the lines of “that’s a nice dress”?

  34. terry chay Says:

    Being a Steeler fan, I know very well that Tom Brady was drafted in the 6th round. I also realize that the team is more important that a single player. Even basketball (to bring it more to Mark’s court) with only five players can’t win a championship on one Michael Jordan. He was great for years, but the Bulls only won when you surrounded him with a great coach, and great players. Michael Jordan is a great example: a one-of-a-kind talent who happens to also have an amazing work ethic, desire for wining, and known for his amazing team play.

    However, doesn’t the fact that Tom Brady was drafted at imply that he is a skilled person? Doesn’t the fact that he was QB for Michigan for three years put him in the elite rather than mediocre category even at the time of the draft? Didn’t he need to be surrounded by an amazing team and perhaps one of the top defenses in the NFL as well a coach who is the defensive equivalent of Bill Walsh to offense? Would that same team have won as many superbowls if they had been in Houston instead of Boston? Am I the only one who finds it ironic that the example you brought up is Tom Brady, a unknown, youthful quarterback from a top tier football school who replaced the “old skilled hand” of Drew Bledsoe, and then only discovered after Bledsoe was injured (it’s not Bill Bellichick had to take much of a risk here)?

    In computer science, asking someone to write strstr() is no different than the skills test they have everyone run through before the draft. There is no way to “fail” it, it’s just a check to make sure your ability agrees with your record. It’s not a perfect system, but it isn’t trying to pick out the rock stars either.

    What Shelley is advocating is we don’t do a skills test, we just take what they put on their resume at face value.

    Perhaps “rock star” was a bad term. We’re not looking for rock stars in terms of ego. And we certainly, in a short test, can’t find a rock star in terms of talent. And, while we do have a number of Stanford graduates, our latest hires are older than me and the only think I know about their schooling was it wasn’t from Stanford, and I’m a 34 years old. It seems to me that we certainly consider people even if they aren’t recent Stanford graduates here. A skills test does not equal ageism.

    As for Google, they seem to be doing very well with their unstated bias to recent Stanford graduates. Microsoft has a nearly identical bias toward new graduates from top tier technical schools. I remember Microsoft would accept every CS undergraduate at Caltech when I went there. Even though the bottom half accepted the offer while the top half went to the better offers, I’d bet anyone that this mediocre by definition set did better. However let’s think of what we are talking about. Mediocre in the top science school in the country where 50% of the students were valedictorians in high school and 100% where in the the top 10% of their class.

    Personally, I don’t think Google’s bias toward recent Stanford grads is a good policy. It reminds me of the “he’s a Caltech guy, he must be a genius” thing that Bill Gross used to project at IdeaLab. And I hope that reality bursts Google’s bubble bursts like it did to IdeaLab. But it is very hard to make a case that Google or Microsoft is hiring policy is incompetent and sexually-biased like Shelley makes it out to be. They are quite successful and it’s hard to argue with success. (I don’t argue that search-related ad revenue wasn’t a great idea, even though I dislike Bill Gross.)

    And yes, all of us rational people know that Google stock will meet up with reality. I just wonder, when it comes, if it has anything to do with their hiring policy and more to do with the hype.

    If you reread the posts you’ll see that Plaxo biases competence over incompetence, team play over showboating, excellence over mediocrity. But most of all, it is about not taking unnecessary risk on unskilled people if you can avoid them; while it takes a teamful of good players to win a championship, it only takes one really bad one to screw it up. And yet, taking blind shots in the dark is exactly the thing Shelley is advocating.

    I’m sorry but if companies like Google and Microsoft can’t afford that, I find it hard to believe that a small startup should start hiring people if they have trepidations on whether or not that person is even competent enough to do the job.

  35. terry chay Says:

    Shelly wrote:

    Mark, you don’t ask a carpenter if they can use a hammer. You ask what projects they’ve worked on.

    You don’t ask a journalist if they can write a five paragraph essay. You ask for samples of their work, and references from editors and the like.

    Ah, the weakness of metaphor rears its ugly head!

    The problem here, as elucidated by Ted is one of team play: I.T. is a business involving a group effort, journalism and carpentry aren’t. While I can judge them based on samples of their work, judging a computer engineer based on only samples of his/her claimed contributions is a really bad idea. We’ve all seen people claim their contribution was much larger than it was actually. We all know of many great projects carried by some unsung team member. Heck engineering legend is rife with them. Remember who built the how the SR-71 was built? thought so. Can we do the same with every engineering project? I think not.

  36. terry chay Says:

    I believe it is Washingtonienne, not Washingtonenne. I’m not too sure what politics has to do with I.T. HR practice.

    This is why I stay out of sexual discrimination issues. It may very well be possible that moman has seen a woman use their sex or sexuality to their advantage and that Shelly has been sexually harassed or discriminated. We all see this issue from the frame of our experiences.

    My mother sufferred a lot of bias being a female theoretical biologist (obviously the other guy must have done the work, she’s female she can’t do math). I’ve seen a completely innocent person kicked out of school simply as a scapegoat to quell a rampaging feminist (who only became one because of all the misogyny at Caltech).

    Whether it is sexual bias or discrimination, it makes me sad. I have no solution to the problem and all I can do is not offer to add to either fire.

  37. Ravi Mohan Says:

    Terry said “If you reread the posts you’ll see that Plaxo biases competence over incompetence ” .

    Thank you for that statement . May your tribe increase and prosper . Trying to hire a cutting edge software company on the basis of anything but competence is a sure way to disaster. I wasn’t aware google had a bias to caltech graduates. sounds very foolish for an other wise frighteningly effective company.

    Here in Bangalore there was this company called Webtek which would hire only IIT (Indian Institute of technology – the local equivalent of Caltech) graduates . The company folded and I had an opportunity to interview almost 20 odd laid off web tek people for Thoughtworks(where I was working at the time ) . I found no particular bias in terms of sheer software ability. The really good guys were a minority (we extended an offer to one person, who was very very good indeed) .There was the usual mass of jargon spouters and cv spin meisters . The questions that eliminated most of these candidates were very simple ones like “How would you set a classpath to include a jar file? ” (!! I’m serious!!) or the slightly tougher “What exactly does an appserver do?” !! A person who claimed to have built a full c compiler in aproject couldn’t answer very elementary questions about lexing and parsing. Another who claimed to have done a lot of network programming had no clue about synchronous vs asynchronous protocols and so on .

    I have to conclude webtek gained no advantage from confing its recruitement to “elite” colleges .

    If Google is going down that path they are making a very serious mistake (though i doubt if they hire people who couldn’t answer basic questions like the ones above).Just as competence has little to do with gender , i doubt if the cream of hackers have a significantly higher proportion of PhD s. Or do they ?
    Maybe Google just knows something I don’t . They are very succesful . Maybe i should just reexamine my assumptions.

    back to Terry’s comment “Whether it is sexual bias or discrimination, it makes me sad. I have no solution to the problem and all I can do is not offer to add to either fire.”

    ahh the cooling balm of common sense!

  38. terry chay Says:

    To recap: Shelly and Mark both agree that it seems to help greatly when you are applying to Google if your resumé says “new graduate” and “Stanford.” What they disagree upon is how great that bias is. Shelly feels that the interview questions are sexually and age-biased, while Mark feels that they are the engineering equivalent of a calisthenics.

    (The IITs seem to have more in common to MIT than Caltech. I know this is a fine distinction, but Caltech is a school with only 900 undergraduates. They just can’t afford to turn out that many engineers or even applied scientists.)

    Google seems to have some predilection for newly minted Stanford and MIT grads, not Caltech ones. Also, in the U.S. when we are talking about bias, we mean some correlation, not that the bias is a matter of hiring policy. It could be just that Google is a few miles from Stanford, and Google has so many young engineers that it is attractive place to work for young engineers.

    All I’m trying to say here is Google and Microsoft are not going to blind themselves to a candidate simply because they’re not from Stanford.

    After all, they both hired Mark. 😉


  39. […] ers is crucial. We had the relatively recent discussion about this a few postings back, in the comments of my post about Shelley’s article. Well, Joel did quite some analysis, and even brou […]


  40. […] ates is greater than the benefit of filling that vacant position. Update: I just noticed Shelly’s comment on this old hiring posts. It reads: That is the worst interview question I†[…]


  41. Didn’t notice it before…quite clever.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: